How Customer Satisfaction Surveys Yield Bogus Results


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Satisfaction surveys are important to capture customer feedback in a logical and objective way, right? That’s the idea, unless the survey is the result of an aggressive salesperson coaching the customer.

It most recently happened to me at a mobile phone store.

The young man who helped me was great, actually. For the sake of this story, let’s call him George. George helped me with my issue, was patient and kind and even threw in a little extra surprise at the end of our time together. He gave me a screen protector for no charge and put it on my phone for me, because, as he said “it’s tricky to do right.”

I was absolutely satisfied!

Then George spent a good five minutes explaining the concept of  a follow-up customer satisfaction survey to me. And why I should give him all 5’s on the 1 – 5 scale.

customer satisfaction surveys

I started to feel less satisfied.

I completed the survey on the touchscreen tablet, all while George continued to talk about the importance of receiving all 5’s and watched. I felt…icky. There was no way I could NOT give him a 5 without disappointing him.

But some questions were about things like my welcome at that store. (I didn’t get one.) I wouldn’t give a 5 in real life, but with this weird hovering guy (who I swear I liked 3 minutes ago!), I tapped the 5 button any way.

I knew the results were skewed, to say the least. I liked George. I had a good experience. But guess what I remember about that store visit now?

How do more typical customers feel about it?

It turns out I’m not the only one who feels less satisfied after being “coached” to complete a survey in a specific way.

Researchers Michael A. Jones and Valerie A. Taylor recently found people who imagined being asked for positive evaluations in retail settings reported a lower satisfaction score than those who imagined not being asked.  I can relate!

Inaccurate and inactionable data are other reasons to avoid the “Please give me a 5!” pleas.

As I tapped that high satisfaction score for my welcome at that store, I knew it was inaccurate. I knew it was going to perpetuate a myth within the walls of the organization that everything was great. Executives would nod their heads in satisfaction and think there was nothing to be done!

And I, the original Customer Experience Investigator™, was helping them perpetuate that myth! Oh the irony!

customer satisfaction surveys

Stop creating customer satisfaction myths.

The reason we’ve encountered what I call the “Give me a high score…or else!” phenomenon is because the salespeople and front-line reps have been coached to ask. They found that asking customers to give them higher scores results in…wait for it…higher scores! And higher scores sometimes mean more incentives for the front-line staff and management. Win/win for them.

But scores are just numbers and humans rely on feelings more than logic. Combine that with the book-end effect, where we remember the last encounter the most, and you can see the survey quickly becomes an inaccurate reflection of what the experience is really like.

I hope the research around this (numbers!) helps retail management realize it’s not worth it to coach front-line reps to beg for the higher satisfaction score. Let your people do what they do best, like my friend George, and the results will follow. And if the scores are too low, they point to exactly what needs to change. That’s what the goal should really be.

Image credits: MIKI Yoshihito (´・ω・)Sam Howzit via Creative Commons license

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jeannie Walters, CCXP
Jeannie Walters is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a globally recognized speaker, a LinkedIn Learning and instructor, and a Tedx speaker. She’s a very active writer and blogger, contributing to leading publications from Forbes to Pearson college textbooks. Her mission is “To Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers.”


  1. I agree 100%.While customers should be told what each score means the practice of begging for or demanding the top score creates a negative experience.
    Giving those being measured any role in the process is absurd – you may as well have students setting and marking their own exams.
    Optima WFM can provide 3rd party customer satisfaction/NPS surveys that avoid all of these problems and get to the root cause of any drivers of satisfaction.


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